A young girl journaling in her bedroom

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What are the benefits of journaling daily? What does the CDC say journaling can do for you? What should you write in your journal?

Journaling sounds like a great idea—at least until you have to confront a blank page each day. But experts say that if you can get the habit to stick, writing about your experiences can have real benefits for your health.

Here’s the psychology behind journaling and how to get started.

Why Is Everyone Talking About Journaling? 

If you’ve ever started your year with a blank journal and an intention to write in it every day, only to have the habit fizzle out after a few days or weeks, you know just how hard it can be to keep up with the practice. But for every person who’s tried and failed to make the habit stick, there’s someone who swears by their journaling practice as the key to their sanity. Researchers say they might be onto something. 

While the practice of keeping a diary dates back to at least the 10th century, the health benefits were first studied in earnest in the 1980s by social psychologist James Pennebaker. Since then, more than 200 studies have found that “expressive writing” can help us improve our mental and physical health. Here are the benefits of journaling daily.

What Can Journaling Do For You? 

Proponents say journaling improves their mindfulness and memory, and there’s proof to back them up. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend journaling as a method for coping with stress, and research shows that journaling can have a positive impact on both mental and physical health. Experts say that that’s because writing down what we’re experiencing helps us externalize our emotions instead of holding onto them.

How Should You Start Your Journal?

Many people worry about what they would even write about when they first consider the idea of keeping a journal. But there’s no wrong way to journal. Research suggests that you might start by naming your emotions, then focusing on your thoughts. The idea isn’t to ruminate on negative experiences. Instead, if you’re feeling stuck, you can use journaling to make sense of what’s happening in your life and look for a way forward

If you want to try keeping a journal, experts recommend starting with a simple routine of writing for 15 minutes several times a week. Even writing a single sentence at a time each day is sufficient. You never have to read your journal, but it might be helpful to date each entry, in case you want to. Some researchers recommend journaling by hand, while others say you’ll benefit from keeping either an analogue or a digital journal. Some people turn to a journaling app like Day One, Diarium, Journey, or Apple’s new Journal app, which can provide you with prompts to inspire your writing, or with reminders to build the habit of writing regularly. 

What if a Traditional Journal Doesn’t Appeal to You?

Some people avoid journaling due to their self-consciousness about focusing exclusively on their own experiences and feelings. An alternative is keeping a commonplace book: a collection of quotes that resonate with you. A commonplace book has traditionally served as a repository for lines from books and poems. But a modern version might also include song lyrics, quotes from movies, recipes, lines from podcasts, and anything else you encounter as you read or listen to others’ work. 

Keeping a commonplace book might be a less direct or confessional way of recording what you’re thinking and feeling than keeping a journal. But it still captures something of the person you are.

How Does Journaling Help—or Hurt—Your Memory?

Experts say that journaling can provide a helpful way to make sense of our experiences because of the way our memories work. Researchers have found that each time we recall a memory, our brains reconstruct it. But memories don’t get reconstructed the same way each time: Instead, they take shape according to the stories we’re currently telling ourselves about ourselves, our lives, and our experiences.

Observers note that even without a journaling app, our phones seem to remember what we’ve been doing better than we do. And researchers debate whether our constant interaction with smartphones is changing how we remember things. They’ve noted that when we’re distracted from an experience by our phones, we’re less likely to remember it well.

Many of us use our smartphone camera rolls as a kind of digital journal, equating our photos and videos with memories. But taking photos on our smartphones can have some strange effects on our memory. Researchers find that taking a photo may diminish our ability to remember what we’re photographing. This might come down to a phenomenon called “cognitive offloading”: When we rely on a smartphone to remember something for us, we’re less likely to remember it ourselves.

Some experts think that to remember things more clearly, we need to make a point of paying attention to what’s happening—and that it might help to write down what it was like to be there. That might bring us full circle to journaling as a useful way to augment our memories.

The Benefits of Journaling Daily: Improve Mindfulness & Memory

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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